In honor of Black History month, the University of Wisconsin athletic department will celebrate the stories of 28 former African-American student-athletes or coaches, one for each day in the month of February. (see table updated daily)
The UW athletic program launched its Celebrate UWs Black History section on UWBadgers.com in 2003. It has been updated every year with new information and multimedia offerings and is one of the finest college resources for African-American athletics history in the nation.
Today we celebrate Ed Withers.
Madisons own Ed Withers, a three-year varsity football letter-winner, was one of the first African-Americans to earn a regular starting berth for the Badgers. A graduate of Madisons old Central High School, he was a member of the UWs legendary 1951 "Hard Rocks defense, and he was the first black Badger to earn All-American honors, a feat he accomplished in both his junior and senior years.
After a stint in the Army, Withers starred on the freshman football team in 1947, but, in readjusting to academic life from the Army, Withers had some scholastics problems and was ineligible the next year. The speedy 5-11, 190 pound Withers returned to the field in 1949 and immediately won a starting spot as a defensive halfback; a position he would keep for three years.
Withers attracted national attention with a strong season in 1950. Against the University of Iowa that year, Withers intercepted three passes the second-most in school history in a 14-0 victory. He returned one interception for a touchdown and set up Wisconsins other TD with his second pick of the game. Withers heroics helped the Badgers to a 6-3 record that year.
For his efforts, he received elections to three different post-season All-American teams, including the prestigious Look Magazine/Football Writers Association of America team, selected in conjunction with legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice.
An integral part of the "Hard Rocks defense, Withers helped lead Wisconsin to a 7-1-1 record and a share of the Big Ten title in 1951. For the season, UWs top-ranked defense actually outscored its opponents 58-53. Withers repeated as an All-American in 51 and finished his career with eight interceptions and a national reputation.
After Withers graduated in 1952, the Green Bay Packers selected him in the NFL draft. His NFL-career was short-lived, however, as the Packers waived him near the end of training camp.
Moving to Milwaukee, Withers worked as a teacher and coach at Roosevelt and North Division High Schools. After teaching for several years he switched to a long career in the insurance business. Withers died in Milwaukee in 1975 at the age of 48.